Women In Voltaire's Candide

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In Candide Voltaire discusses the exploitation of the female race in the eighteenth century through the women in the novel. Cunegonde, Paquette, and the Old Woman suffer through rape and sexual exploitation regardless of wealth or political connections. These characters possess very little complexity or importance in Candide. With his characterization of Cunegonde, Paquette, and the Old Woman Voltaire satirizes gender roles and highlights the impotence of women in the 1800s.
Cunegonde is the daughter of a wealthy German lord. She is described as “extremely beautiful” (Voltaire. 5) and is repeatedly referred to as “the fair Cunegonde.” (39). She is the typical damsel-in-distress: a woman who is completely reliant on male protection and often
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The female characters in Candide are of little importance to the action of the story. The narrator embraces a male perspective and does not endow any of the women with any interesting or redeeming qualities. The Old Woman, being ugly and world-weary does not even earn a name. Paquette is merely described as “a pretty and obedient brunette.” (5) She is pronounced obedient not because of her duties as a chambermaid, rather because she is quite willing to submit to the men in the baron’s castle. Cunegonde, Paquette, and the Old Woman are not intricate…show more content…
All of the female characters suffer through it on at least one occasion. When Cunegonde describes the attack on her family’s castle and her subsequent rape she states that it is “the customary way of doing things.” (23) The narrator describes another violent scene: “Girls who had been disemboweled after having sated the natural needs of some of the heroes were breathing their last.” (9) The rape of women is viewed as “natural” and the rapists are “heroes” of the story. This perspective highlights how little power women possessed at that time. The characters in Candide seem to accept the rape as an unfortunate, but common occurrence. Paquette is the only woman who seems to view her situation with any sort of bitterness. After she was kicked out of the baron’s castle she became a prostitute in order to make a living. She was “forced to continue this terrible profession that you men find so pleasant, while to us women it is but an abyss of misery.” (92). All of the characters at some point claim that they are “one of the most unfortunate creatures in the world.” (92) However, until the end Paquette is the only one who truly laments her position and feels that she is being wronged. She is completely powerless in this profession and when she is no longer pretty she has only poverty to look forward to. Beauty is the only attribute which women have to recommend them and when that is gone they have no prospects to speak
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